Since its inception in 2000, Boys teams from all over the world, including South Africa, have been playing in the under-12 Danone Nations Cup competition. Then in 2017, in line with Danone’s principle of inclusive diversity, Group Danone introduced a girl’s tournament to run alongside that of the boys. The first tournament saw four countries participating, which increased to six in 2018 and in 2019 there will be 8 countries sending a girls teams, including South Africa.
“The inclusion of a girls team this year is a natural progression and growth of our tournament,” explained Marlinie Kotiah, Head of Corporate Affairs, Danone Southern Africa. “South Africa is one of only a few countries that has been participating in the Danone Nations Cup since its inception. Including girls in our tournament is in line with our new policy of promoting inclusive diversity, openness and changing mentalities. We want to encourage more children to follow their dreams on and off the field and this includes all youngsters no matter their gender, who they are, or where they come from.”
The world finals will be staged as a double header, including 2018 and 2019, in the country and city where Danone first began, Barcelona, with 20 boys and eight girls teams competing. South Africa, along with Japan, Uruguay and Argentina will be sending girls teams for the first time. “This year is Danone’s centenary and the 20thyear of the Danone Nations Cup so we decided to make it a special occasion,” explained Kotiah.
“Staging a girls only tournament is work in progress,’ said Kotiah. “We will pilot the girl’s tournament in Gauteng in 2019 and the success of this will determine the way forward. Traditionally there are far fewer girl’s teams playing soccer at this age,. The decision to start with Gauteng, is based on the larger number of interested teams there. We want the competition to be fair and the way forward will be determined by the number of girls teams that show interest nationally.”
To encourage girls to get interested in soccer, which has been seen as a boys sport, Danone has brought in Amanda Dlamini, ex Banyana player, as the ambassador and role model. “Amanda has been involved in the tournament in the past and we have brought her in to assist in enticing girls to start playing the sport. She started playing before the age of 12 and knows the stigma and challenges young girls face. Ultimately we will be helping to uplift the sport and get more South African girls to play at the highest level or become stadium spectators,” explained Kotiah.
The Gauteng districts have been competing in play-offs over the past week and the nine winners will then compete in the provincial finals at the Germiston Stadium on Friday, 7 June, kicking off at 10am. The four semifinalists will play at Reiger Park on Saturday, 15th June at the same venue as the nine boys provincial winners will be competing in the National Finals.
Over 2 million boys and girls from the 28 countries around the world are expected to participate in the tournament this year. The final day of games will take place at the home ground of La Liga club, RCD Espanyol de Barcelona, commonly known as Espanyol, on the 12th October.
Zinédine Zidane has been the honorary ambassador of the Danone Nations Cup since 2003 and continues to support the younger generation and encourage them to play football and believe in their dreams. He uses his unique high-level experience in sport to foster the spirit of teamwork and fair play through a passion for soccer.
“This year also coincides with our new brand positioning and purpose, One Planet One Health, which reflects our belief that the health of humankind and that of the planet are interlinked and both need to be protected and nurtured. Through the Danone Nations Cup we are contributing to bringing this vision to life by promoting the importance of exercise. Further, we are encouraging our young athletes to ‘Play Football, Change the Game’, which is a rallying message to unite children, irrespective of their backgrounds and cultures, and to encourage them to become catalysts for positive change,” said Kotiah.
Danone will also use the tournament as a platform to educate the players on sustainability with a reduced environmental footprint through recycling. “We have a responsibility to teach our football players that they are the future and will become world citizens and they need to take that responsibility seriously as they will play a role in helping the world they live in and they need to care for their environment,” said Kotiah.
The tournament rules are those of 8-a-side games as per the French Football Federation and approved by FIFA. The games are played on half of a full-sized field with each game consisting of one 20-minute half. The final will be an exception with two halves of 12 minutes each.
The Danone Nations Cup is more than a football competition. “It allows kids from all over the world to discover new places and cultures and promotes values such as respect, diversity, team spirit, trust and fair play. Over the last 20 years many Danone players have gone on to become professional footballers and compete in the highest leagues in the world. This applies to South Africa too, with the likes of Kermit Erasmus, Kamohelo Mokotjo, Rowan Williams and many more,” concluded Kotiah.
THE ROAD TO BARCELONA
- 2018 and 2019 will be played simultaneously
- 700 players will compete
- 56 teams representing 27 different countries
- 2017 winners: Boys – Mexico and Girls – Brazil
- Barcelona is symbolic as it was in this city in 1919 that Isaac Carasso created the first Danone yogurt – a simple food, with a simple aim to improve health.